The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Winning The Rural Vote: Bridging the Digital Divide In Rural Communities

This week's edition of our Winning the Rural Vote Campaign shines a spotlight on a cornerstone of modern rural development and prosperity: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Communities. In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, the availability of reliable digital infrastructure is not just a convenience but a necessity. Yet, in rural areas, which make up 40% of constituencies, a significant digital divide persists. This gap not only limits access to essential services but also hampers economic growth and deepens social isolation.

The Urgency of Rural Digital Connectivity
The disparity in digital infrastructure exposes rural communities to numerous challenges. Despite recent improvements, over half of rural premises in England still lack access to gigabit-capable broadband, and an equal percentage cannot access full fibre connectivity. This digital divide severely restricts access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities, with vulnerable populations—including the elderly, low-income families, and rural businesses—feeling the brunt. Patchy mobile telephone signal can also leave rural residents isolated.

Government's Response and the Path Forward
Recognising the critical nature of this issue, the Government's October 2023 consultation on "Very Hard to Reach Premises" aims to address these challenges by proposing improvements in digital infrastructure for these areas.  We await the response from the Government on the way forward in this area. Project Gigabit, the Shared Rural Network and the broadband Universal Service Obligation model are steps in the right direction but call for a comprehensive review and update to meet the evolving needs of rural communities.

A Comprehensive Strategy for Rural Digital Success
Our campaign proposes a multifaceted approach to eliminate the digital divide in rural areas:

The Rural Services Network emphasises the importance of prioritising social value in funding justifications, advocating for fair data access, and addressing price sensitivity in rural areas through mandatory social tariffs and considering broadband as a critical component of national infrastructure.

Your Role in the Digital Transformation of Rural Areas
As we advance our Winning The Rural Vote campaign, we invite policymakers, community leaders, and residents to support the cause of rural digital connectivity. By advocating for targeted policy actions and engaging in meaningful dialogue, we can bridge the digital divide, ensuring that rural communities are equipped to thrive in the digital age. Together, we can foster a future where the strengths and needs of rural areas are acknowledged and met, paving the way for a more connected, inclusive, and prosperous rural England.

Click on the chapters below to explore more context and data that bolster the Winning The Rural Vote campaign's requests

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